Public interest in coffee perks up

Though overall coffee consumption is down, it rose last year for the first time in a decade. And coffee lovers are thirsty for coverage of specialty products and beans.

Though overall coffee consumption is down, it rose last year for the first time in a decade. And coffee lovers are thirsty for coverage of specialty products and beans.

Though it seems specialty coffee shops are so ubiquitous they must be cloning themselves at night, the reality is far fewer Americans consume morning java than their grandparents did.

In the early 1950s, nearly 80% of Americans had at least one daily cup of coffee. That number is down to about 53% today.

But Joseph DeRupo, communications and PR director for the National Coffee Association, sees a bright spot - coffee consumption rose in 2004 for the first time in 10 years.

New healthy message

After years of being considered "bad for you," it turns out coffee now makes for a compelling health and science story.

"The scientific evidence has changed dramatically, and almost all the evidence [from] labs around the world has been positive," DeRupo says. "Coffee has four times the antioxidants of green tea and more than red wine. It helps prevent liver cancer and the onset of colon-rectal cancer, and may be beneficial in the fights against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease."

Of course, quashing a long-held myth isn't easy. DeRupo says that he and agency Wyatt Communications did face some initial skepticism from reporters when they tried to promote the health message. But they countered it by bringing in scientists to tout coffee's benefits at a 2004 editors' symposium. And even Today featured coffee in a segment earlier this year on foods that are surprisingly healthy.

"You just have to be very careful not to over-promise and not to pick out studies that are small or in their very early stages," says agency president M.J. Wyatt, who adds that TV producers seem especially interested in coffee-themed stories. "It's pretty easy for the station to find footage of people drinking a cup, and there's always file footage of the coffee being made."

Matt Milletto, director of consulting for the Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, which provide education and consulting for people looking to enter the coffee business, says that his company regularly gets calls from reporters looking to do coffee-themed business stories.

But these pieces tend to focus on the growth of Starbucks or the effect that the chain has had on the specialty-coffee market.

When it comes to lifestyle coverage, however, he suggests that coffee might be one of those categories where the public is ahead of the mainstream press.

"We're definitely seeing that, as specialty coffees grow in popularity, a lot more people are taking the time to educate them- selves on different types of beans and different roasters," Milletto says. "So there is interest among the public for stories that compare different coffees, as well for pieces that educate people on the best ways to prepare espresso and other drinks."

Little in-depth coverage

Although many consumers are as particular about their coffee as they are about wine or single-malt scotch, there has been little mainstream coverage comparing different types of beans and roasting styles. Ken Davids, editor of Coffeereview.com, says that some of those companies can be found at his site and on blogs such as Coffee Geek.

Davids has developed a 100-point review system similar to those used for wines, but he's had little success trying to get other outlets to adopt it.

"We've tried to reach out to traditional food editors, but [we] can't seem to get them interested," he says. "The main reason for that is that something like wine or single malt is finished in the bottle, whereas there are so many variables to brewing coffee. That can make for a better experience for the coffee drinker but means it's far more challenging to review."

Lisa Brock, president of Brock Communications, notes that she's had some success pitching stories to reporters on the different coffee growing regions on behalf of her client Melitta, which makes coffee, coffee filters, and non-electric coffee systems.

But she also pitches trade outlets and the lifestyle press on Melitta's latest offerings, such as its One:One Coffee Pod. "Just about every woman-centric publication has a column on the latest products, and we can also pitch holiday gift guides and stories on collegiates heading back to school," she says.

As for outreach strategies, Brock notes that she sends out a lot of mugs and sample coffees, especially to morning TV and drive-time radio hosts.

"Everyone on those morning shows is drinking a cup, and you'd be surprised how many have a strong opinion on coffee, so we send them different types to try out," she says.

Pitching... coffee

  • After years of being considered unhealthy, it turns out coffee has many nutritional benefits, so gather up the latest evidence and target medical and science reporters

  • Including a branded mug and samples in with your media kit can go a long way when pitching reporters

  • Try to localize the latest coffee trends, such as home-roasting beans, by tracking down coffee connoisseurs working or living close to the outlet you are pitching

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